Chapter Two: Darker Things
Thanks so much for your kind reviews :) I wasn't sure how this would take as it's not the typical SWATH story… In reply to a review, no Eric (yes the Huntsmans name is Eric :) ) will not end up with Snow. But wait and see to find out… he encounters someone who you might be surprised at (hint it is Eric/OC).
By the way my writing is kind of bi-polar depending on what I listen to so hopefully it works out.
The heart was such a fickle organ. One moment it could be bathed in comfort, contentment and bliss. The next, it could be torn in ways that were never thought possible. A burning, seething pain twisting its way into the ventricles, the blood stream, and the very air you breathe. Thick, black resentment would wind its way around the pulsing organ, choking and squeezing.
It could be argued that it has its reasons for such tumultuous decisions. It was, after all, the one that withstood the heaviest burdens. Sure, the liver sustains a substantial beating when you consume copious amounts of liquor. But it rights itself fairly easily, ready for the next battle. Muscles have the potential to ache bone deep on occasion when they are overused. But they too, spent minimal time in pain and would come back better than new.
However, the heart, the life organ, could be damaged beyond repair.
The echo of his boots almost made it sound like there was someone following him. The sound bounced off the walls and matched his racing pulse. He quickened his step, and his heart beat accelerated with it. Shaking hands at his side were barely able to move with the weight upon his shoulders. One hand was clenched so tightly about his axe that he felt the edges cutting into his hardened palm. The pain did nothing to stem that running through his bones.
As the echoing grew louder with each desperate step, he ventured into a daze. There was no point in even turning his head to glance back at the darkening hallway. It would serve him no purpose to look back upon the empty corridor, there was no one there.
She would not follow him. Not when she would be rushing to William's side, as he hastened away from her. He felt he could not breathe through these stony walls any longer. He did not belong here. The hallway seemed to stretch forever, the few minutes since he left her felt like an eternity. Finally breaking into the court yard, he sucked in a deep breath of the open air.
From here, he could see the gate. Beyond these walls, the frothing ocean and rippling sand. So eagerly did he stare at the open grounds beyond the castle, he did not notice somebody calling his name. Breathing had started to become easier, with each step closer to freedom. Maybe his feelings for her were only contained within these walls, where she ruled over him. Once he left her fortress, he was the one in control. He could already taste the ale on his tongue, as he planned his first action once he returned to his village. Getting blind drunk may not give him the answer to his problems, but it tended to lead him to forget the questions he needed answering.
His arm was grabbed roughly as he neared the gate, forcing his instincts to snarl at the intrusion. He was torn from his blissed daze and thrown into something much less appealing. A low growl rumbled in his chest as he came face to face with him. The future king.
William did not miss the anger rippling across the huntsman's face. Nor did he miss the icy gaze, running over him like a hunter's prey. It did not take a smart man to piece together his demeanour and quickening pace. He knew.
'Huntsman,' he greeted with a slight nod of his head, quickly dropping the man's bulging arm. 'Leaving us so soon?'
The bridge of Eric's nose narrowed in a frown as he tried to hate the man before him. Tried to will enough anger to raise his axe and bring it down upon William's smug face. Only it wasn't smug at all. As he looked Eric in the eye, an unrecognisable emotion crossed his handsome face. Disappointment? He could not place it. Swallowing the razor blades in his throat forcefully, he glanced briefly at the gate once more.
'My leaving here is long overdue,' he stated simply and that look on William's face deepened. Look at me with pity, show me arrogance, Eric thought heatedly. Give me a reason to blame you. The stoic stare in William's eyes did not move an inch as he looked up slightly at him. It should have given Eric some satisfaction that he towered slightly over the future king, but it did not.
'I would not blame you if you were to throw me from the castle walls,' William said despondently, 'For it is exactly what I wanted to do to you when you awoke her from the curse.'
William's words were like little daggers to Eric's control. He was unsure what to make of his honesty. He did, in fact, want to throw him from the castle walls and worse. He did not know, however, whether it were just a matter of male pride. His frown deepened as he realised William was trying to apologise. Why should he? They were not friends. Eric did not reply and clenched his jaw tightly as William sighed and ran a hand through his dark curls.
'This may be a fruitless endeavour,' William hesitated at the stony look upon the Huntsman's face, but his respect for the man led him to continue, 'You would be an irreplaceable addition to the lead of the army, right here.'
Before he had finished, he knew Eric's answer. A bitter smile pulled the corner of the huntsman's lips up in a crooked grin that was not one of amusement. William was not one to profess words of respect and immense gratitude to another man, especially one in which his future wife trusted so loyally. However, he respected the huntsman as a man who could perform his duty, who was able to hold his own and could lead men to battle against Ravenna. Unfortunately, his dear princess had captured more than one man's eye. This was undoubtedly the factor that led that led to Eric glancing towards the gate once more. Watching him now, he looked to be a trapped animal.
'I'm certain you do not even need to ask, to know my answer to that,' Eric's deep voice rumbled and he itched to leave this conversation. He did not need to talk to William, he was perfectly happy being angry at the pair of them. He shifted slightly, letting William know he was ready to leave. Eric knew he did not need to say it, for William was the one she belonged with. His animosity, however, forced the warning through his lips.
'Take care of her.'
Without waiting for an answer, Eric turned away from the future King and faced the heavy gate before him. He made to move, but stopped suddenly as something caught his eye. He heard a quiet reply come from William, but he could not make out the words. When he did not reply, nor move, William stepped towards Eric. He was gazing out towards the golden sand and had appeared to not have heard anything he had said. William opened his mouth in confusion but was cut short abruptly.
'Have you no men at their posts?' Eric asked, a frown marring his forehead. William was slightly taken aback, and wondered if Eric was reconsidering his earlier statement.
'No,' he replied, somewhat cautious for he had no idea where this was headed. 'There has been no need since Ravenna was…taken care of.'
Eric's eyes did not move, they did not even flicker. 'Do you think Ravenna to be the only beast in these lands?'
'The only beast with enough power to cause a threat,' William's frown deepened, 'I-'
'Where is your captain?' Eric interrupted, ignoring his statement. William was growing impatient with whatever game he was playing.
'He went on a hunting mission a few days ago,' he ground out.
'Then I suggest you ready your men,' Eric finally turned his head towards William, and was already gripping the axe at his side. 'For you are foolishly mistaken.'
As he said this, the unmistakable sound of hooves could be heard, colliding with sand and stone. William tore his eyes from the huntsman's frosty gaze towards the gate, and almost stumbled back in shock.
A black haze of flags could be seen rounding the hills onto the beach. Horses, black as night were scattered, their hooves caked with sand and mud as they raced towards the castle. Men encased in onyx armour could be seen upon the racing beasts, swords gleaming in the afternoon sun. The crashing ocean had muffled the sound of hooves until they were right on their doorstep.
With this realisation, William shouted his orders, sending men vying for weapons and armour. Rangers raced to the walls, while others desperately aimed to lower the gates. Women and children went fleeing for cover. Men were so used to this protocol, that the chaos around him appeared systematic and efficient. Eric did not move, his keen sight has honed in on the very front of the ominous army. He had counted but fifty men and horses cased in black. Before them, however, were ten foreign steeds that did not quite fit. As Eric flicked his gaze to a ripped flag that was being brutally thrashed with the pace of the horse's hooves, he saw the colours of the Queen.
'Do not close the gates,' Eric shouted to William, busy calling orders to the men who were assembling. He could see the heavy metal slowly closing and he grabbed William by the scruff of the neck and shouted again. William finally looked irritated. Pulling out of the huntsman's grasp he turned abruptly,
'I appreciate your bravado huntsman, but we cannot take these men on in melee combat,' he stated roughly, 'We have no idea what they are capable of.'
Eric growled his frustration and threw William forward slightly so he was able to point to the front of the army. 'There is your hunting pack.'
William, almost ready to pummel the huntsman for throwing him about, now stopped dead. He too now saw the small, disguised group of men amongst a sea of black. The commander, his father. His throat constricted as he saw the heavy metal of the gate closing on his men and he wished it were him on the outside, his father in the castle grounds barking the well-rehearsed orders.
But it was him.
There was no time. William barely remembered his feet moving until he was racing towards the gates, taking three steps at a time to reach the top of the wall. He would not leave his father or his men stranded.
Eric walked slowly towards the gates, his axe gripped tightly in his hand. He watched the army get closer, the sand scattered around their feet causing a sandy, hazy fog. As he glanced upwards towards the wall, he saw the rangers in turmoil. The army was in their range but they could not shoot for fear of hitting their own. Eric had never seen these dark men before, but had no doubt of their purpose as their swords once again caught his eye.
Eric narrowed his eyes as men lined up beside him, and drew their swords. There was no question of whether they would fight or not. They would lie down their very lives for their queen. Shaking himself inwardly he turned back to the black cloud so quickly approaching. Now was no time to think of her. As he pushed her out of his thoughts, a heightened argument began behind him to be heard over the various orders, armour and weapons. He did not even need to turn to know who it was. He had that very same voice shouting at him before, and it was something he found he did not miss. He could make out that she was arguing that she would fight, while her men desperately tried to force her back into the castle.
She is no longer under your care, he reminded himself, let them take care of her.
Taking a deep breath, he once again pushed her out of his mind and by now he could make out the features of the army's men. His throat constricted slightly as he scanned their faces. Their faces were dirt streaked and bloodied. They all looked beyond terrified. Looking past them, the army was incredibly close behind. The gate would not close before at least some entered the castle. By now the rangers had thought it safe enough to shoot and at least ten black riders were left scattered like spilt oil upon the golden sand. Crouching slightly, his eyes flicked to the heavy metal gate, open just enough to allow the men entry.
Shouts echoed around him and he could see William, standing close to the entry of the gate, his bow poised in position. The sound of hooves was now deafening and as the first horse galloped into the castle, every man was set in position. Eric went into battle mode, disregarding the white and brown horses that passed him. There was but seconds that passed since the last Queen's rider entered their sanctuary and the first black rider entered the castle grounds. The heavy metal screeched as it was desperately pushed down, but it was barely heard over the clash of swords as more and more riders entered like a murky shadow.
Riders were shot down by archers, William's arm reaching for bows so rapidly that his arm and bow were a blur. Eric was soon to learn that the army was as relentless as he was. Each man was cut down without mercy as they fell to the ground. Eric spun his axe around with precision as he landed it in the blackened chest and just as forcefully ripped it out to cut down the next man who came at him. As he elbowed a heavily armoured rider in the head and sent him flying, he noticed that the gate was now closed. Stepping over bodies beneath him, he ducked as a sword sliced through the air above his head and swung his heavy axe into the man's thigh above the onyx leg braces. Beside him one of the Queen's fighters was holding off a particularly bulky rider, his arms slowly giving way. Eric pulled the smaller axe from his side and threw it, slicing through the air to land in the back of the rider's plated head. Turning around swiftly, he readied his aching muscles for another onset of opponents and took in a deep, heaving breath. Looking around him, there were no standing black figures within the castle walls.
Eric attempted to slow the rapid pace of his breathing as he looked for her. He bitterly wished he did not care. He did not have to search far for she was standing mere metres from him. As he watched her chest heaving, he could not help but let out a breath he had not even realised he had been holding. However, she was not looking at him. Her eyes were locked upon William, who had rushed to her side.
Turning away bitterly he walked towards the heavy metal and saw the fallen riders behind the gate, strewn on the sand. As he watched, four or five riders had deserted their mission and had taken off along the beach and back into the hills. As far as he could tell, the danger was over. Once again he had helped his queen, only to get it thrown back in his face. Motioning to one of the rangers he called to them to open the gates once more. Frowning, the ranger shook his head and motioned to the retreating riders. Eric found his temper boiling, he needed to leave before he added another casualty to the battle.
'Open the gates, boy,' he growled dangerously, 'I only need to pass through. It will take you naught but a few minutes.'
The ranger kept a wary eye on Eric's bloodied axe, but made no movements. Eric felt a rumble in his chest at the need to escape this prison. About to climb the stairs to throttle that damned ranger, he felt a hand on his shoulder. What now? He thought furiously and turned once again to William and his queen.
'My thanks, Eric,' William nodded, using his name for the first time. 'You saved us from what would undoubtedly have been a massacre, had we been unprepared.'
Eric had not moved, but glared angrily at the man's hand at his shoulder until it slid off quickly.
'Tell your incompetent ranger to raise the gate,' Eric ground out, keeping his eyes off Snow White's delicate features. Instead he watched William almost squirm in discomfort. For Eric knew what he would say.
'That is not wise yet,' William spoke slowly, almost like trying to calm a dangerous animal. 'There may be many more where that came from.'
Eric's anger shrouded his ability to think straight and he refused to see that William was making a decision on behalf of his people. His eyes flicked to the girl at William's side, blood streaked across her pale cheek. She looked at him with her emerald, doe eyes, pleading with him.
'One night,' William reassured him, 'If there is no further threat by morning, I will request the gates be opened for you.'
One night, Eric thought dejectedly, thinking of how long the minutes felt as he walked down the hallway. One night would be a lifetime trapped in this fortress. William looked distracted as he watched the men who had rode in earlier, dismount their horses. As Eric battled inwardly for patience, he saw fury ripple suddenly across William's normally placid features.
'You must excuse me,' he muttered, his voice like granite. 'I have business to take care of.'
Without another word, he stormed away from him, leaving Eric standing beside the one person he wished to be the furthest away from. She watched him quietly, still unsure of what to say to the man who had saved her life, and now her kingdom. So many things were swirling around in her head, so many things she wanted to say to him. But instead, she said nothing. She simply stared up at him as his shoulders slumped with defeat. He looked anywhere but her face, and saw William grabbing one of the Queen's riders by the arm roughly, shouting at them in an endless stream of wild gestures and broken curses. Eric watched as William pulled the helmet roughing from the man's head and in defence the man pushed William roughly to the ground. He could not see the rider's face, but the anger between the pair was palpable.
'Well, your majesty,' he spoke quietly, dangerously. He could no longer bare her eyes on her in such strained silence. 'It seems you have manipulated circumstances to gain your wish.'
Eric heard her gasp with what he guessed was indignation. But he did not care to know. Turning from her, he walked away from her once again, a similar desolate feeling once again creeping in.
Second chapter down! A bit long-winded but totally necessary. Let me know what you think :) xx